Jul 13 2015

Coal Ash? NIMBY

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Duke Energy announced late last year that due to demands from state environmental regulators, they would be relocating coal ash produced in four of their power plants. 5.1 million tons of coal ash would be moved from Asheville Steam Electric Plant, Dan River Steam Station in Eden, Riverbend Steam Station and L.V. Sutton Steam Electric plant. About 3 million tons were intended to be sent to open-pit clay mines in Sanford and Moncure, NC. Given the recent atrocity at the Dan River Steam Station in which upwards of 30 thousand tons of coal ash from a storage pond drained the area’s main source of drinking water, it is entirely understandable that nobody wanted the toxic sludge dumped in their town. Coal ash is the toxic byproduct of burning coal and often contains chemicals like arsenic, chromium, mercury, and lead. (thinkprogress)

coal ash

As citizens of Sanford heard of the plans, they began to investigate the dangers of coal ash and to speak out. Homeowners worried about property values, environmental impact, and most importantly, water quality. In other North Carolina coal ash dump sites, surrounding waters have shown elevated levels of heavy metals, including vanadium and chromium, a carcinogenic chemical. (Associated Press) It is fairly clear that coal ash poses a serious risk to human and environmental health and is therefore predictable that residents near the planned site of the coal ash dump voiced concerns.

Signs like this are posted throughout the city of Sanford.

Signs like this are posted throughout the city of Sanford.

Several meetings have been held to allow citizens to ask questions and to voice their concerns. It was through a combination of these meetings and plans becoming public that citizens began to notice some incongruities. Duke Energy had contracted company Charah Inc. in order to dispose of the coal ash. According the The Rant, “Charah officials claimed at a presentation to the city’s Environmental Affairs Board in January, that the project would restore the project site – inactive clay mines near Colon Road just east of the Sanford city limits – “to its original topography” and that the ash disposal would take place outside of a 50-foot buffer zone from any wetlands.” Interestingly enough, at a March meeting regarding the project, local activists learned that Charah plans to leave a pile of coal ash 50-60ft higher than the level of the original site’s topography. In addition, their claim that wetlands would be protected was proven false when records emerged of Charah’s applications for four permits to mitigate damage to wetlands. This means that wetlands would likely be relocated or otherwise affected due to “unavoidable impact”.

Records have recently been released of a June 29th, 2015 meeting regarding coal ash leachate. In these records, it is clear that Charah Inc. sought to avoid questions and placate locals regarding the project. The company even revealed that they only carried out the absolute minimum testing required by law in order to proceed with the project. Currently, the fight regarding coal ash in Lee county rages on. Locals are adamantly opposed to the project but so far, no changes to project plans have been made in order to increase safety for local ecology and drinking water. It remains unclear whether Duke Energy and Charah Inc. can even be seen as reliable sources for information on the plans and the community’s view on the project remains unsteady.



“Answers to Questions Regarding Coal Ash Leach Ate Treatment | Page 1 of 9 Answers to Questions Regarding Coal Ash Leach Ate Treatment.” Sanford NC. 13 July 2015. Web. 13 July 2015. <http://sanfordnc.net/coalashmeeting.pdf>.
Atkins, Emily. “More North Carolina Residents Warned Of Contaminated Drinking Water.” ThinkProgress RSS. Climate Progress, 6 May 2015. Web. 13 July 2015. <http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2015/05/06/3655603/more-contaminated-drinking-water-in-north-carolina/>.
“Duke to Move Some Coal Ash to Clay Mines near Sanford :: WRAL.com.” WRAL.com. Ed. Mathew Burns. 13 Nov. 2014. Web. 13 July 2015. <http://www.wral.com/duke-to-move-some-coal-ash-to-clay-mines-near-sanford/14178017/>.
“Lee County Residents Speak out at Coal Ash Meeting.” ABC11 Raleigh-Durham. 13 Apr. 2015. Web. 13 July 2015. <http://abc11.com/news/lee-county-residents-speak-out-at-coal-ash-meeting/657350/>.
“Sanford Officials: Charah Misrepresented Coal Ash Plans.” THE RANT. 17 Mar. 2015. Web. 13 July 2015. <http://rantnc.com/2015/03/17/sanford-officials-charah-misrepresented-coal-ash-plans/>.

2 responses so far

2 Responses to “Coal Ash? NIMBY”

  1.   Jake Toddon 24 Jul 2015 at 1:09 am

    I agree with your main thesis that financial benefits for solar energy should be increased in order to advance the spread of solar technology as a clean, renewable energy source to replace nonrenewable energy sources. With that being said, as far as economics are concerned, if energy companies are the organizations which reward individuals for returning energy to the grid, then they maintain the right to pay whatever they please for the energy returned. I believe that if a consumer wishes to effect change for solar energy returned to the grid, then they have to make it economically sustainable for companies to subsidize that energy. This could come about due to reductions in costs for solar energy, providing a greater incentive for consumers to invest, as you said, or from increased solar energy efficiency, leading to greater values as assessed by energy companies. There are a few statements you make which I believe are unsupported in light of the evidence provided. For instance you say that, “the environmental cost of fossil fuels should be enough to influence the switch to renewable energy sources”. I agree with this statement on a personal level, but, objectively speaking, you don’t really provide the evidence in your post to support this claim. You also say, concerning the deficit between net metering payouts and solar energy value, “utility companies are underpaying solar panel companies.” However, as far as economic value is concerned, energy has a standard value, regardless of the source. Like you said, social values associated with solar power are subjective, so I don’t think there is enough evidence to support the claim that energy companies are underpaying. I agree with you about your push for solar energy benefits, but, I think there needs to be a stronger foundation for the claims you have.

  2.   Eric Royeron 25 Jul 2015 at 2:41 am

    I thought this was a really thoughtful piece, especially considering that Duke plans to dumb this coal ash literally in you backyard. After watching Cape Wind, we saw the power of grassroots organization in small-town communities and it seems like you have a little bit of this going on in your hometown, but probably for a more reasonable cause than an obstructed view. I’m interested to see how this plays out. On one side of the fence you have Duke Energy, one of the largest energy companies in the nation attempting to make a poorer small town foot the bill for the waste of larger municipalities. On the other side you have the citizens of Samford rallying together to attempt to stop the seemingly inevitable. It seems like blatant exploitation to me. Duke Energy is seemingly taking advantage of a poorer, rural, uneducated population (on the whole) by skewing the facts and acknowledging the fact that they don’t have the financial resources or support to block this proposal. In the Cape Wind debate, the opposing side had the backing of the Koch Brothers, billionaire oil magnates who financed their campaign to block the wind farm. The citizens of Samford have no such supporter. I do think that if enough of the townspeople raise a fuss and get the support of the larger media then they could stand a fighting chance, but for now the outlook is bleak. The Duke Energy lobby is simply too powerful and has too many resources for the people of Samford to pull together and mount serious opposition. It will be interesting to see what follows as this proposal moves forward.